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Microcredit programs may increase risk to pastoralist livelihoods in Inner Mongolia

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The literature on microcredit programs has largely focused on positive socioeconomic outcomes and low accessibility issues in farming areas and has provided less insight into the effects of easily acquired microcredit in pastoral areas. Using a case study approach, and econometric models, this paper addresses this gap by examining why and how easily acquired microcredit loans in Inner Mongolian pastoral areas increase the risk to the financial security of households or livelihood risk. Results show that existing microcredit programs increase livelihood risk because loan and repayment requirements do not align with the husbandry production cycle of contemporary Inner Mongolian pastoralists. This misalignment forces pastoralists to borrow from usurers to repay bank loans. Furthermore, households that need to borrow from usurers typically own smaller numbers of livestock and are less likely to be able to repay the usurers by selling animals. Instead, they tend to increase their bank loans in the coming year to repay the previous year's debt, trapping them in a vicious and ultimately impoverishing circle of annual loans they cannot fully pay back, and feeding increasing debt. We suggest that microcredit programs in semiarid areas should be in sync with the local production cycle and recognize environmental constraints that cause high variation in production seasonally and year to year. Our results supplement previous findings on microcredit applications and are particularly pertinent for other semiarid areas of the world.

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